“A vile bag of garbage named I Spit on Your Grave is playing in Chicago theaters this weekend. It is a movie so sick, reprehensible and contemptible that I can hardly believe it’s playing in respectable theaters.” That’s critic Roger Ebert back in 1980, explaining the repugnance he felt for a low-budget horror film that has since gained notoriety and a cult following.
Fast-forward to October 2010. Our man Roger finds himself reviewing yet another sexploitation movie, which he decries as a “despicable remake of the despicable 1978 film I Spit on Your Grave.” Poor Roger. He didn’t seem to learn much. You’d think that after being so traumatized by the original, he might have known to avoid the remake.
Both Graves have the same plot, in which an attractive, “uppity” city girl named Jennifer is brutally gang-raped by country hooligans and then wreaks bloody vengeance on all of them. As Ebert points out, the first half of the new film, with its prolonged sexual assault, is by far the more realistic part of the story. Actress Sarah Butler (as Jennifer) is degraded in every imaginable way: She is patted down by a leering sheriff, forced to fellate a bottle, has a gun barrel poked against her crotch, is anally raped, and then raped again. Butler is shown nude during the assaults and again as she wanders dazedly through the woods. Director Steven R. Monroe’s camera eschews modesty in favor of gratuitousness, focusing on Butler’s small breasts, bare buttocks and, in at least one fleeting close-up, her pudendum.
When it is time for Jennifer’s revenge scenes, however, Monroe preserves the male actors’ dignity. There isn’t much nudity from the men – not even during a scene in which Jennifer uses hedge clippers to castrate one of them. These scenes are standard gore-movie stuff, and the audience will be thinking of plaster, putty, and fake blood – certainly not about social statements. Jennifer is not so much an empowered feminist as she is a credibility-stretching psychopath. The frail-looking girl manages to physically overpower all of the beefy young men, and then devise Rube Goldberg-like contraptions to torture and dispatch them.
How does all of this compare to the infamous original film? The first one was so cheap and so poorly acted (excepting Camille Keaton, who played Jennifer) that it was almost like watching a home movie. In a way, that rawness made it even more disturbing. The new film has much better production values, acting, and direction. Otherwise, they are basically the same story.
Neither movie is what I’d call “horror.” They are both fetish films, designed for people who enjoy seeing their rape fantasies enacted on screen. Jennifer’s revenge scenes are simply an attempt to fend off social-minded critics like Roger Ebert. Grade: C+
Director: Steven R. Monroe Cast: Sarah Butler, Jeff Branson, Andrew Howard, Daniel Franzese, Rodney Eastman, Chad Lindberg, Tracey Walter, Mollie Milligan, Saxon Sharbino Release: 2010
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